She is known as one of the most evil women in history and is responsible for burning more protestants at stake than any other English Monarch. There are alcoholic drinks and children’s sleepover games named after her, but in all fairness was Mary Tudor, the first Queen regnant, evil?
Born on February 18, 1516, Princess Mary would be the only surviving child of Henry VIII and his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. By the time Mary was born, Katherine and Henry had already lost several children, either through miscarriage or stillbirth. And while Mary was a healthy baby, she was still a girl, not the long-awaited prince of Greenwich Palace.
Mary was brought up Catholic, and like her mother, Mary’s faith would become unshakable during the hardest days of her life. Mary was instructed by her mother to attend mass several times a day and also to be sure she knew her prayers. Mary was not only spoiled by her mother but she was the apple of her father’s eye. Despite the fact that she was not a boy, she was the most loved little girl in all of England.
However the ruby cheeked, red-haired Mary was often used as a pawn by her father in securing the English throne. At only two years of age, she was betrothed to the young son of King Francis l of France. But the marriage contract was broken after three years. At six years of age, she was betrothed to her 22-year-old cousin, Charles V of Spain, with the promise of a large dowry. This too fell through and it was even suggested that she marry King Francis l himself. Happily for Mary, this did not happen either.
In 1525 Mary was sent to live at Ludlow Castle of the age of nine under the tutelage of Lady Margaret Bryan. It was common practice for royal children to be brought up away from court. It was also around this time that Henry VIII was becoming increasingly frustrated with the fact that he still did not have a male heir. Queen Katherine was six years older than The King and it seemed that her child-bearing days were coming to an end.
When The Lady Anne Boleyn walked into King Henry’s court in 1526, it would ultimately mean the end of the royal marriage. Anne, a lady in waiting to The Queen, was young and beautiful and attracted the eyes of not only several men of the court but The King himself. Anne gave Henry even more reason to end his marriage with Katherine. She would deliver him a son once she became Queen.
Henry was a very religious man and he turned to The Bible for guidance. A chapter in the book of Leviticus 20:21 stated that if a man married his brother’s wife, “it was unclean and they shall be childless”. Before becoming Henry’s Queen, Katherine had been the bride of Henry’s older brother Arthur for only four months when he passed away. This was enough to convince Henry that his marriage to Katherine had been no marriage at all and he that he should have the right to divorce her. It also convinced him that his daughter Princess Mary, was now a bastard.
Over the next several years, Henry and Anne continued to have an open and lucid affair directly under the nose of Queen Katherine. And in June of 1527 Henry told Katherine he was ending the marriage and demanded his advisers petition the Pope for a divorce.
There was no love lost between Mary Tudor and Anne Boleyn. Mary saw Lady Boleyn as the great whore who was determined to ruin her mother. Over the next year Henry’s advisers carried forth their attempts to persuade The Catholic Church to give him his divorce. When Anne Boleyn became ruthless in her attempts to dethrone Queen Katherine, Mary’s feelings turned to pure hatred.
Queen Katherine’s attempts at trying to save her marriage, even with The Catholic Church on her side, were in vain. In the summer of 1529, a frustrated Henry VIII sent Queen Katherine away for good. And Princess Mary never saw her mother again. After four years of fruitless attempts at convincing Rome to give him a divorce, Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church and declared himself head of the new Church of England. He then married Anne Boleyn, who was already pregnant with his child, in a small ceremony. Queen Katherine was demoted to Dowager Princess of Wales while Princess Mary was stripped of her titles. And Anne Boleyn now reigned as Queen of England.
In September of 1533, Queen Anne gave birth to a daughter; Mary’s half sister, Elizabeth. Despite the treatment she received by her father and her new step-mother, Mary could not bring herself to hate the Princess Elizabeth. She found herself looking after her and enjoying the child’s curiosity and obvious intelligence. But she could not and would never refer to Anne Boleyn as Queen. The only Queen in Mary’s eyes, was her mother Katherine. Anne was an avid supporter of the Protestant Reformation and in Mary’s eyes, this was absolute heresy. Her refusal to call Anne Queen enraged Henry and he and Mary didn’t speak for over three years as a result. To make matters worse, the quick-tempered Anne saw Mary as a threat and would continue to criticize her in front of The King.
When her beloved mother fell ill, Henry refused to let Mary see her. Katherine died in January of 1536 and Mary’s world fell apart. Her mother had been her strength and their love for each other had only deepened while separated . Now Mary was utterly alone with only her devotion to Catholicism to comfort her.
After three short years of marriage, Anne Boleyn had not given The King a son as promised. She quickly fell from The King’s favor and was accused of adultery, incest, conspiring against The King, and being a witch. She was charged with high treason and executed on May 19, 1536.
We can imagine that Mary Tudor was probably not losing sleep over the fact the her step mother was dead. It’s been said that she simply stated “Is it done?” and nodded with approval when told that the execution had been carried out. But perhaps she had some sympathy for her half-sister Elizabeth, who was also then declared a bastard and stripped of her title in the same way Mary had been.
Henry VIII would go on to marry four more times in his life. Jane Seymour, his Queen just days after Anne Boleyn’s execution, played an important role in trying to repair Henry’s relationship with his daughters. After Mary begrudgingly signed a document, agreeing to recognize her father as head of the The Church of England and to adhere to all his wishes, The King welcomed her back to court. This was done in large part to Jane’s gentle persistence. Queen Jane would also deliver Henry the one thing he had longed for; a son. In October of 1537, Prince Edward was born. Henry was elated. But sadly, Queen Jane fell ill from infection and died only 12 days after the birth. Mary was made Godmother to her half-brother and also served as the head of the family at the Queen’s funeral.
Henry’s fourth and fifth marriages were short-lived and Mary often acted as the royal hostess at court. But it was Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, who was responsible for bringing the family even closer together. Catherine also convinced The King to rewrite the line of succession, which would now include Mary and Elizabeth should Edward die without a son.
Henry VIII died in 1547, leaving his kingdom to nine-year old Edward VI. Edward was too young to rule alone and his uncle Edward Seymour, The Duke of Somerset, acted as regent. Like Edward, The Duke was intensely devoted to Protestantism. Protestantism was quickly being established all over England.
But Mary remained passionately faithful to Catholicism and during her brother’s reign she spent most of her time away from court where she was free to practice Mass in her private chapels. The religious differences between Mary and Edward continued and she refused to bow to The King’s demands that she abandon her faith.
Edward had not been a healthy child and suffered from frequent lung infections and coughing fits. When he fell seriously ill in July of 1553, he turned his father’s rules for the succession upside down. He knew he was dying and he feared that his sister Mary, who was to inherit the crown, would restore England to Catholicism. Edward rewrote the succession, and instead of Mary and Elizabeth, he placed his very protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey as his successor. Mary was summoned to London to see her dying brother but feared this was a trap to capture her. She fled to East Anglia where she had a strong Catholic following.
When King Edward died on July 6th, 1553, Lady Jane, a scared and self-conscious girl, took the crown. At this time a letter had arrived for the privy council from Mary, claiming her right to the throne. Support for Lady Jane dwindled as support for Mary grew. Jane Grey was charged with being a traitor and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
On August 3rd, 1553, Mary paraded through the streets of London with almost 1000 nobleman. The streets were filled with the English people who wanted their rightful Queen. Mary had Henry Tudor’s bloodline and the support of the Catholics. She was crowned Queen of England on October 1st, 1553. As Queen, Mary was faced with a difficult decision. Did she really want to sign the execution warrant of an innocent girl? Jane Grey was just a child and in Mary’s eyes, didn’t deserve to die for being used politically. But unfortunately after deliberating with Parliament, Mary saw no choice but to have Lady Jane and her husband executed.
When Mary Tudor took the throne she was 37 years old and not very attractive. She had not inherited her father’s height but was short with a bulky stature. She was considered an old maid instead of a young, virtuous bride. But Mary knew that in order to be an effective Queen, she needed a Catholic husband. In July of 1554, Mary married Prince Philip of Spain. Mary was quite smitten with Philip, however, he didn’t share the same affections. He noted that Mary was very plain-looking and was not arousing to the pleasure’s of the flesh.
Mary was also determined to set right the wrongs that her brother had caused. She carried much of this out by way of execution. Several leaders of the Protestant church, including Thomas Cranmer, who was the moving factor in Henry’s divorce from Katherine, were imprisoned and executed. Mary also declared the marriage of her parents valid and abolished all of her brother’s religious laws. Mary also had the Heresy Acts, which were repealed by her father and brother, revived. Under these laws, Queen Mary l would execute almost 300 protestants by burning them at the stake.
Being burned at the stake was considered one of the most gruesome deaths one could endure. If you were lucky you would die from inhaling carbon monoxide before actually burning to death. The people of England did not look upon their Queen favorably for her choice of revenge on protestants. The burnings were so unpopular that even Mary’s husband and his advisers condemned them.
In September of 1554, Mary’s menstrual cycles stopped. She was also plagued with nausea and had started to gain weight. Despite Mary’s history of irregular cycles, her court doctors confirmed that she must be pregnant. Mary’s abdomen continued to swell as she awaited the birth of her child but spring of 1555 came and went without any signs of The Queen going into labor. By July of that year, rumors started to spread that Queen had never been pregnant. The swelling in her stomach started to recede and Mary was convinced that God was punishing her. Her husband Philip left England to join his army in fighting the French and Mary was heartbroken.
Philips returned in 1557 and Mary soon believed she was pregnant again. However no baby was born this time either and Mary’s health was declining. She suffered migraines, fatigue and stomach pain and passed away at age 42 in November of 1558. Because she had no heir, her sister Elizabeth inherited the throne.
As we look back on Mary Tudor’s life, it’s hard not to have some sympathy for her. As a child, she was cast aside by her father and stripped of her titles after watching a bitter struggle between her parents. She was filled with such hatred for her step mother that it all but consumed her. And Mary suffered the pain of knowing that her mother would die alone. The migraines that plague Mary as a young woman would continue into adulthood and leave her in bed for days. After seeing her father denounce her beloved Catholic Church, she was ousted by her own brother and forced to leave England for safety. When Mary did take the crown, perhaps she was already filled with such bitterness over the cards she had been dealt. And although being burned at the stake was horrific, it was still the choice of execution for heretics over much of Europe. And as a woman who desperately wanted to marry, her own husband made it clear that he wasn’t at all physically attracted to her. This must have been so hard for Mary because Philip would be the second major male figure in her life to mistreat her. And after two false pregnancies, it’s not hard to imagine how Mary turned into the bitter, miserable person she did. For someone who was born having everything, she quickly learned that things could change in the blink of an eye.
So, what if Mary had a life filled with the love of both her parents, free from illness and abandonment? Could she have possibly been a different kind of ruler? However to this day, she still remains the infamous “Bloody Mary”.
Sir Thomas Wyatt is usually best known as the son of Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Elder and Poet. Today, we look at the event that caused his death – Wyatt’s Rebellion. You see, Wyatt thought having the Protestant Lady Jane Grey on the throne was best for England, but when that didn’t last more than a week, his next battle was stopping Queen Mary from wedding Philip of Spain. Wyatt, along with others, worried that having the Queen wed a foreign prince would in turn make that prince their ruling sovereign. They were also very concerned (and rightfully so) that Queen Mary would return England to Rome and Catholicism.
The rebels themselves explained that they were rebelling in order “to prevent us from over-running by strangers.”
“This was a rebellion led by nobles – principally Sir Thomas Wyatt from Kent, Sir Peter Carew from Devon, Sir James Croft from Herefordshire and the Duke of Suffolk from Leicestershire. However, it had one major weakness – it did not have the popular support of the people across the land and was doomed to failure.”
Their plan was to coordinate a series of uprising that would occur in the south, southwest, the Welsh Marches and the Midlands – from there the men would march on London. Once in London their mission was to remove Queen Mary and replace her with her Protestant sister, Elizabeth. The plan then was to have Elizabeth marry Edward Courteney.
Unfortunately for Wyatt and his men, Simon Renard, the Imperial Ambassador, heard rumors that such a plot existed and immediately informed the Lord Chancellor, Stephen Gardner. Gardiner hauled in Edward Courteney for questioning.
Meanwhile, word of Wyatt’s Rebellion spread to the Queen. Mary attempted to reason with Wyatt – she asked him what he wanted in return for ceasing the uprising. Wyatt stated that he should have the Tower of London handed over to him and that she should be in his charge. Clearly this was not something that Mary was willing to do.
On the 1st of February 1554, Queen Mary made an inspiring speech to Londoners and won over their support:
‘I am your Queen, to whom at my coronation, when I was wedded to the realm and laws of the same (the spousal ring whereof I have on my finger, which never hitherto was, not hereafter shall be, left off), you promised your allegiance and obedience to me…. And I say to you, on the word of a Prince, I cannot tell how naturally the mother loveth the child, for I was never the mother of any; but certainly, if a Prince and Governor may as naturally and earnestly love her subjects as the mother doth love the child, then assure yourselves that I, being your lady and mistress, do as earnestly and tenderly love and favour you. And I, thus loving you, cannot but think that ye as heartily and faithfully love me; and then I doubt not but we shall give these rebels a short and speedy overthrow’.
Because of the Queen’s speech she had won over her people, and they in turn jumped into action to protect the Queen from this uprising.
The rebellion failed miserably after Edward Courteney spilled the beans on all the plans to Stephen Gardiner during questioning. When Wyatt’s men had a difficult time getting into London they found another way across the Thames through the southwest end of the city. Unfortunately they would not succeed. Wyatt surrendered. So many men were arrested from this uprising that the they had to house the overflow in area churches.
In total about 90 rebels were executed, including Wyatt and Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk. Wyatt was severely tortured (in the hope of extracting a confession implicating Elizabeth) and on the 11th of April 1554, was beheaded at Tower Hill and his body then quartered. This event was also the nail in the coffin for Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley. Their fates had been undetermined until this uprising occurred, and then it was obvious to the Council and the Queen that she would never be safe as long as Jane lived.
We ended Part Two of the series with the death of Edward VI on the 6th of July 1553. In this, the final article in the series, we will observe the short reign (13 days, not 9) of Queen Jane and discuss her execution.
If you’d prefer to listen to me discuss the topic you can do so here:
Heir to the Throne
On the 21st of June 1553, the Letters Patent was signed by 102 noblemen, London aldermen, bishops, archbishops and councillors – this was pretty much every politician that was available.ą These letters patent were issued stating that King Edward VI’s heir would be Lady Jane Grey, the daughter of Frances Brandon. Frances was the daughter of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon. But before we go too deep into that let’s look at what had happened before Edward became King of England.
Will of Henry VIII
In the Will of Henry VIII it was laid out exactly how the King wished for it to be for his son as a young monarch. It was obvious that he wanted his son to have the best, and to continue on with the Tudor dynasty.
Here is the succession part of his will:
As to the succession of the Crown, it shall go to Prince Edward and the heirs of his body. In default, to Henry’s children by his present wife, Queen Catharine, or any future wife. In default, to his daughter Mary and the heirs of her body, upon condition that she shall not marry without the written and sealed consent of a majority of the surviving members of the Privy Council appointed by him to his son Prince Edward. In default, to his daughter Elizabeth upon like condition. In default, to the heirs of the body of Lady Frances, eldest daughter of his late sister the French Queen. In default, to those of Lady Elyanore, second daughter of the said French Queen. And in default, to his right heirs. Either Mary or Elizabeth, failing to observe the conditions aforesaid, shall forfeit all right to the succession.
Edward’s Devise for Succession
When Edward VI created his “Devise for Succession” he wasn’t trying to overthrow his father’s 1544 Act, he was merely trying to follow in the footsteps of his father, Bluff King Hal.
Edward’s “Devise for Succession” had been sent to Parliament, just as his father’s had, unfortunately there would not be enough time for it to be passed prior to his death. If it had been passed things may have turned out differently.
Here is Edward’s “Devise for the Succession”: Grey Inheritance
For lack of [male] issue of my body to the male issue coming from this female, as I have after declared. To the Lady Frances’ male heirs if she have any such issue before my death, to the Lady Jane and her male heirs, to the Lady Katherine’s male heirs, to the Lady Mary’s male heirs, To the male heirs of the daughters which she shall have hereafter. Then to the Lady Margaret’s male heirs. For lack of such issue, to the heirs male of the Lady Jane’s daughters. To the heirs male of the Lady Katherine’s daughters, and so forth until you come to the Lady Margaret’s daughters’ heirs males.
There are four more paragraphs, if you’re interested in reading more I recommend using Google and searching “Devise for Succession” and you will fin your way around.
It wasn’t even clear that Edward even had the authority to alter his father’s will, particularly as Parliament had granted Henry the right to dispose of the crown. Even the Chief Justice, Sir Edward Montague, had a hard time believing that Edward’s devise would overthrow his father’s 1544 Succession Act – however, with a bit of royal and political pressure Sir Edward Montague was convinced to change his mind, and was given a pardon for his attempt to stop the King’s wishes.
When the Duke of Northumberland informed Lady Jane Grey that Edward VI had died and that she would be his successor, Jane collapsed weeping and declared “The crown is not my right and pleases me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir.” Northumberland and Jane’s parents explained Edward’s wishes to their anguished daughter; Jane accepted the crown as her duty: “Declaring to them my insufficiency, I greatly bewailed myself for the death of so noble a prince, and at the same time, turned myself to God, humbly praying and beseeching him, that if what was given to me was rightly and lawfully mine, his divine Majesty would grant me such grace and spirit that I might govern it to his glory and service and to the advantage of this realm.”
Mary Tells the Council She is Queen
Here is part of the letter from the Lady Mary that is dated the 9th of July 1553, and it was sent to the Lords of the Council but arrived to them on the 10th. At the beginning she discusses that she had heard of the death of her brother, the King and how much it saddened her. Then she dives right into the issue:
“But in this so lamentable a case,/ that is to write, now/ after his Majesty’s departure and death, concerning the Crown and governance of this realm of England/, with the the title of France/, and all things thereto belonging, what hath been provided by Act of Parliament and the Testament and last will of our dearest Father, besides other circumstance advancing our right, you know, the realm, and the whole world knoweth, the rolls and records appear by the authority of the king our said Father, and the king our said brother, and the subjects of this realm, so that we verily trust that there is no good true subject, that is, can or would pretend to be ignorant thereof, and of our part we have ourselves caused, and as God shall aid and strength us, shall cause our right and title in this behalf to be published and proclaimed accordingly.”
Unfortunately, for Mary the preparations for Jane’s proclamation were already under way and the following day Jane was proclaimed queen.
It was between four and five in the afternoon, Lady Jane Grey, her husband, Guildford Dudley, her parents and mother-in-law arrived by barge to the Tower of London. As the large Tower gates closed behind them, a blast of trumpets grabbed the crowd’s attention. It was there, that two heralds then proclaimed that Lady Jane Grey was Queen of England.
A Genovese merchant by the name of Sir Baptista Spinola, described the situation as such: Jane was wearing a green gown embroidered with gold, large sleeves and a very long train. Jane’s headdress was white and heavily jeweled. By her side was her young, tall and blonde husband, Guildford Dudley, dressed in white and gold – he appeared attentive to Jane’s needs. Spinola was apparently close enough to notice that Jane had small features and a well-made nose, the mouth flexible and the lips red. The eyebrows are arched and darker than her hair – which is nearly red. He also described her as thin and very small even though she was wearing platform shoes to increase her height. He was so close that he stated her eyes were “sparkling and reddish-brown in color.” It’s almost like he was standing right next to her. Unfortunately for all of us, that description by Sir Baptista Spinola was a work of fiction – literally. The first evidence of this observation goes back to a book by Richard Davey and Patrick Boyle in 1909 – men who were obviously not present at the time of the event. Because of that statement many portraits have been modeled after his fictional description.
Leanda de Lisle, author of “The Sisters Who Would be Queen” says that actual witnesses at the event reported that Guildford walked by Jane with his cap in his hand and that her mother was carrying her train.
I need to take a minute to address the train carrying. It was highly unusual for someone with the pedigree of Frances Brandon to carry the train of her own daughter. What on earth did Frances Grey do to upset both Henry VIII and Edward VI – to be removed from the succession and be replaced by your daughter? I have no idea…if you know, let me know, because I don’t know.
After making the announcement at the Tower, the heralds then moved on to proclaim their message throughout London. From the beginning, there were many who felt an injustice had been done.
A boy lost both of his ears when he shouted out that it was Mary who was the rightful queen and not Jane. The reception Jane received was a cold one, for the most part, after the proclamation was read.
Here is part of the proclamation:
Jane by the Grace of God Queen of England, France and Ireland, defender of the faith, & of the Church of England, & also of Ireland under Christ in earth the supreme head. To all our most loving, faithful, and obedient subjects, and to every of them greeting. Where our most dear cousin Edward the Sixth, late King of England, France and Ireland, defender of the faith, and in earth the supreme head under Christ of the Church of England and Ireland, by his letters patent signed with his own hand, and sealed with his great seal of England, bearing date the 21st day of June, in the 7th year of his reign, in the presence of the most part of his nobles, his councillors, judges, and divers others.
It then goes on to explain the legitimacy, or lack there of for both Mary and Elizabeth. The truth was that Mary was a Catholic and Edward and his men had done all they could to rid England of Catholicism during his reign. Allowing Mary to inherit the throne after his death was seen unfavorably.
All throughout London, notices were hung to announce the new Queen for those who were not present for the hearld’s announcement.
In “The nine days’ queen, Lady Jane Grey, and her times” by Richard Davey and Patrick Boyle – it says:
“From every point of view, Queen Jane’s proclamation was ill-advised. It was very long-winded, even for that period, and the manner in which it dealt with the claims of Mary and Elizabeth, brutal in frankness, was well calculated to offend the Catholic powers, and cruelly wound the personal feelings of the late king’s sisters.”
As we continue with this timeline we cannot forget the Spanish – they were, of course, very interested in how things played out in England. Dated the 11th of July 1553, a letter was sent from the ambassadors in England for the Emperor – it said:
“By way of news received since our last letter, we have heard that the Lady Mary, in spite of the considerations we submitted to her, has caused herself to be proclaimed Queen in Norfolk, and is continuing to do so in the neighbouring districts, both verbally and by means of letters. She has also written letters to the Council, which they received yesterday, declaring herself Queen. We have been told that when the letters arrived the Council were at the table, and were greatly astonished and troubled. The Duchesses of Suffolk and Northumberland, it is said, began to lament and weep. The Council commanded my Lord Grey to go and bring in the Lady Mary. They told him he would ride out the following day with a good number of horses.”
As we now know, Jane’s father did not go – he grew ill with “fits” that would weaken him for months – it is believed he suffered from stress and anxiety. I also need to address the part about the duchesses of Suffolk and Northumberland is most likely a made up story, as they would have never been allowed into the meeting.
The Council Pushes Back
The Council then responded to Lady Mary’s letter on the 11th of July by saying:
“Madam, we have received your letters the ninth of this instant, declaring your supposed title, which you judge yourself to haue to the Imperial crown of this Realm, & all the dominions thereunto belonging. For answer whereof, this is to advertise you, that forasmuch as our sovereign Lady Queen Jane is after the death of our sovereign Lord Edward the sixth, a prince of most noble memory invested and possessed with the just and right title in the Imperial Crown of this Realme, not onely by good order of olde ancient laws of this Realme, but also by our late soveraigne Lordes Letters patentes signed with his own hand, and sealed with the great seal of England in presence of the most part of the Nobles, Counsellors, Judges, with divers other graue and sage personages, assenting & subscribing to the same: We must therefore as of most bo?nd duty and allegiance assent unto her said Grace, and to none other, except we should (which faithful subjects can not) fall into grievous and unspeakable enormities. Wherefore we can no lesse do, but for the quiet both of the realm and you also, to advertise you, that forasmuch as the divorce made between the king of famous memory K Henry the 8 & the Lady Katharine your mother, was necessary to be had both by the everlasting lawes of God, and also by the Ecclesiastical lawes, & by the most part of the noble & learned.”
Crown Jewels and Coronation
The following day, on the 12th of July 1553, Mary traveled roughly thirty miles moving from Kenninghall to Framlingham Castle. It was at Framlingham that she really began to rally support. On that same day, the Lord Treasurer William Paulet, brought Jane the crown jewels, even though she claimed she never asked for them. It was decided that her coronation would not be for at least a couple of weeks, so there was no need. at the moment, for her to have the crown jewels in her possession.
It makes me curious, why would the Duke of Northumberland not push Jane for a quicker coronation. Had the ceremony been performed immediately there would have been no question who the Queen was – she may have been considered a usurper but she would have been anointed by God. When Matilda, daughter of King Henry I, inherited the crown of England it took her so long to return to England from the continent that her cousin Stephen jumped at the chance and was crowned King Stephen before she had the opportunity to claim it. Things like that actually happened. This is the very reason the Duchess of Northumberland wanted Jane in London while the king was dying, so she would be ready. Why didn’t Northumberland schedule an immediate coronation? It makes me curious. With that question in mind I contacted my friend Claire at The Anne Boleyn Files – Claire knows a lot about the time period and it generally my go to person when I have nagging questions. Claire said that a coronation took much time to plan and that is why she believed it wasn’t done immediately. In my opinion, if they were worried, they could have rushed the plans and made it less of a spectacle.
While the stories we are often told of Jane are of her weeping at the thought of being queen, the truth is that she was performing the duties of a monarch. And every day,Jane signed letters and papers with her name – “Jane the Quene” If she was reluctant I do not believe she would have signed it as such. I’ve always believed that she may not have wished the role at the beginning, but once she was in it she would fulfill her duties properly.
For the next three days Mary’s supporters and forces grew. She gained support from men such as Sir Edward Hastings; Henry Radclyffe, Earl of Sussex; Sir Thomas Cornwallis; Thomas, Lord Wentworth; Sir Henry Bedingfield; John de Vere, Earl of Oxford. These men are big names for Mary to have on her side. In addition to them were many prominent families of eastern England. Mary was proclaimed Queen in various counties and towns due to her efforts.
On the 15th of July the tide really began to turn against Jane when the royal ships guarding the Eastern coast for ‘Queen Jane’ swapped their allegiance to ‘Queen Mary’. Their crews had not been paid, and they received a visit from Sir Henry Jerningham (grandson of William Kingston – that name should sound familiar) asking them to support Mary instead, so it was an easy decision. It makes one wonder why they hadn’t been paid.
Now, you are probably interested in hearing more about these ships and what happened:
A man by the name of Robert Wingfield accompanied Jerningham who had heard about the ships off the coast by a drunken sailor, and the following morning (15th) found the ship beached at Landguard Point. Wingfield documented what happened:
“Very early the next day Jerningham, accompanied by Tyrrell and Glemham, rode up to inspect the ships thus brought to the haven by a lucky tide and wind, as they say. When they had reached the haven he ordered Richard Brooke, the squadron’s commander, a diligent man and skilled in seamanship, to be called to him, and took him to Framlingham castle to bring news of this happy and unexpected arrival to the queen.”
I don’t know anymore than that. They brought the commander of the ship to see Mary and then the ships switched allegiance. Could it have been because Mary paid him the money that had been owed by Queen Jane’s establishment? Or maybe she just offered to pay in the future. Either way, they turned sides.
The Spy Talks
On the 15th of July 1553, a letter was sent from a spy in France to the Emperor. The emperor had great interest in the events at English court. His cousin, Mary, was supposed to be Queen. France was looking at aiding the Duke of Northumberland in securing Jane.
The letter˛ said:
“The present courier, who is returning in haste to Italy, will only give me time to write a few words; but it will be enough if your lordship learns the most important news. The King of England died on the 7th, and the wife of the son of the man who was formerly governor (i.e.Northumberland) was suddenly elevated to the throne, and took possession of London Tower with great pomp. The Emperor’s cousin retreated to some place in England. The said governor’s son followed her with 300 horse; and it is thought he will arrest her if he can. The said governor has written post-haste to the King here, and if there is trouble in England I am sure the King will not fail to help him with all his forces, both from here and from Scotland. Within two days’ time he is going to send M. de Gyé (the French ambassador) and the Bishop of Orleans to encourage the said governor, and offer him all the help he may need. There is some hope that this sudden change may give rise to an alteration for good in religious matters. God grant it may be so!”
Jane Fights Back
In the meantime, Jane continued to send letters to sheriffs and Justices of the peace and demanded their allegiance, saying: “Remain fast in your obeisance and duty to the Crown Imperial of this realm, whereof we have justly the possession.” Jane was determined to maintain her role.
The Chronicle of Queen Jane also reports that at around 7pm on 16th of July “the gates of the Tower upon a sudden were shut, and the keys carried up to the Queen Jane”. Jane had ordered guards to be setup all around the Tower to help her maintain her possession of it.
A couple of days later, on the 18th Queen Jane began to raise more troops. She had been upset and sent letters to those who would betray. She was sure that these rebels lacked the heart to continue on with their mission. She said these men should receive ‘such punishment and execution as they deserve’. But unfortunately her show of force was too little too late, the tide had turned and all appeared lost.
A Change From Within
While the Duke of Northumberland, and his army made their way from Cambridge to Bury St Edmunds to stand against Mary’s men, the Earls of Pembroke and Arundel called a council meeting and then betrayed Northumberland and Queen Jane. The men persuaded many council members that Mary’s claim to the throne was legitimate.
It was after the council had turned that men began to run through the streets shouting, “the Lady Mary is proclaimed Queen!”
Enemies of the State
With Mary now considered Queen of England, Jane, her father, the Duke of Northumberland and Guildford Dudley were now enemies of the state. There had to be consequences for usurping the throne.
So the Council’s soldiers arrived at the Tower, and Jane’s father, Henry Grey was there to speak with them. They informed him that all was lost and that he must have his Tower guards put down their weapons. Grey complied. They also told him to he must ‘remove’ himself from the Tower at once. Also, if he did not read the proclamation that Mary was his Queen in public he would be arrested. Henry Grey once again complied.
Queen No More
Grey had the unfortunate duty of informing his daughter that all was lost and that she was no longer Queen of England. Jane gracefully held her composure and reminded her father that it took much convincing at the beginning for her to accept the crown.
The Duke of Northumberland was quick to pledge his allegiance to the merciful Queen Mary as well. If this had been Mary’s father, all those involved would have easily been executed for treason.
Jane was moved from the royal apartment to a small house next to the royal apartments within the Tower. Her husband was placed in the Beauchamp Tower close by.
Northumberland may have believed himself safe but on the 25th of July 1553, he and his sons Ambrose and Henry arrived at the Tower. The following day his son Robert Dudley and William Parr both arrived as well. On the 27th of July, Jane’s was saddened to see her father arrive at the Tower – they had all hoped that Northumberland would take the fall for the entire event.
Fighting for her Family
On the 29th of July, Jane’s mother and cousin to the Queen, Frances Brandon paid a special visit to Queen Mary. It was at this meeting that Frances pleaded with Mary that her family were the victims of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Mary agreed to release Henry Grey the following day, but Jane was charged with treason had to stay in the Tower – it was too dangerous for Mary to release her.
On the 3rd of August, Queen Mary made her formal entry into London. With her procession of nobles and courtiers took claim of the Tower of London.
While this battle for the throne was shrouded in religion, Queen Mary made a point of issuing a conciliatory proclamation which promised a settlement of religion ‘by common consent’ – and said that people, in the meantime, should live under the religion ‘they thought best’. This was a smart move by Mary. Most people were terrified that she would immediately return England to Catholicism.
On the 13th of November, Jane, her husband Guildford and his brothers Ambrose and Henry were tried for treason. The trial was public and was held at London’s Guuildhall. Jane Guildford were charged with high treason for taking possession of the Tower and proclaiming Jane as Queen. Jane was also charged with signing her name as Queen.
They were all found guilty as charged. The men were to be hanged, drawn and quartered and Jane was to be burned alive or beheaded. It was reported that Jane remained calm during her trial and sentencing. Jane was determined that her death would have meaning. During her time in the Tower as a prisoner she truly devoted herself to her religion and found comfort in it.
Eric Ives states in his book (Lady Jane Grey – A Tudor Mystery) that:
“Jane faced imprisonment in the Tower positively. The loss of liberty was irksome, but the more she could, by God’s grace, triumph over hardships, the more confident should be be of her eternal destiny.”
Even though Jane had been condemned to die there was no date given for her execution. It appeared at the time that her cousin, the Queen, might spare her life.
Unfortunately for Jane, the year 1554 brought trouble, by way of Thomas Wyatt and Wyatt’s Rebellion. The point of the rebellion was to remove Mary from the throne and win it for Elizabeth (another Protestant) because Mary was looking at marrying a foreign prince, Philip of Spain. However, many believed at court that the intent was to place Jane back on the throne of England. But, as history tells, Wyatt’s Rebellion a failure – the only thing it succeeded in was the execution of Jane and her husband.
A resident in the Tower wrote this about the day of their execution:
“The Monday, being the 12th of February, about ten of the clock, there went out of the Tower to the scaffold on Tower hill, the Lord Guildford Dudley, son to the late Duke of Northumberland, husband to the Lady Jane Grey, daughter the Duke of Suffolk, who at his going out took by the hand sir Anthony Brown, master John Throckmorton, and many other gentlemen, praying them to pray for him.”
Guildford was led to the scaffold, where he said few words, kneeled down and said his prayers.
“Then holding up his eyes and hands to God many times, and at last, after he had desired the people to pray for him, he laid himself along, and his head upon the block, which was at one stroke of the axe taken from him.”
The same witness made account of Jane’s execution as well:
“First, when she mounted upon the scaffold, she said to the people standing thereabout: ‘Good people, I am come hether to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact, in deed, against the queen’s highness was unlawfull, and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and desire thereof by me or on my half, I do wash my hands thereof in innocence, before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day’, and therewish she wrung her hands, in which she had her book. Then she said, ‘I pray you all, good Christian people, to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman, and that I look to be saved by none other mean, but only by the mercy of God in the merits of the blood of his only son Jesus Christ; and I confess when I did know the word of God I neglected the same, loved myself and the world, and therefore this plague or punishment is happily and worthely happened unto me for my sins; and yet I thank God of his goodness that he hath thus given me a time and respite to repent. And now good people, while i am alive, I pray you to assist me with your prayers.’
After reading a psalm from her book she stood up, and gave her gloves and handkerchief to Elizabeth Tilney, and her prayer-book to Master Thomas Bridges. She then untied her gown. The executioner went to assist her but she adamantly declined his offer and turned to her ladies. It was after all that that her eyes were covered with a blindfold.
The executioner then knelt down and asked for her forgiveness in which she willingly forgave the men for what he must do. She said to him, “I pray you dispatch me quickly”.
Blindfolded, Jane was unable to locate the block in front of her. She had a moment of panic and said, “what shall I do?’ ‘Where is it?’ A person nearby (it does not say whom) guided the frightened young woman to the block.
Her final words were, “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!”
˛’Spain: July 1553, 11-15′, in Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 11, 1553, ed. Royall Tyler (London, 1916), pp. 80-90. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/spain/vol11/pp80-90 [accessed 18 March 2018]
By mid-January 1559 Elizabeth had her household set, rightfully so, she was officially crowned Queen of England. Her group of tightly knit ladies were referred to as the “old flock of Hatfield”.
Instead of the Catholic ladies in Queen Mary’s household like Wharton, Waldegrave, Cornwallis, Babington, Dormer and Southwell, Elizabeth replaced them with her cousins, the ladies Carey, Knollys and Ashley; As well as the daughters and wives of those men who served her, such as the ladies Cecil, Throckmorton, Warner, Cheke and Benger.
Of course, those ladies who had served her throughout her life would stay involved now that she was Queen. Kat Ashley and Blanche Parry to name two. Blanche has been reported to have served Elizabeth from the time she was in the cradle until she died in 1590.
Ashley was almost immediately appointed her Chief Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber – this position was the most prestigious post within Elizabeth’s household because it gave her complete access to the sovereign. Kat was nearly always by the Queen’s side, even at night she was right there sleeping on a pallet bed in Elizabeth’s bedchamber. Not only was she responsible for the care of the Queen but she was also responsible for overseeing all the other ladies of the privy chamber.
Blanche Parry was appointed second Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber and was also (due to her fondness for literature) the keeper of the Queen’s books.
There were two other ladies from Elizabeth’s time at Hatfield that found a place in her household as Queen, they were: Lady Elizabeth Fiennes de Clinton, who was appointed Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber and Elizabeth St. Loe or “Bess of Hardwick. Hardwick, who, at the age of thirty-one was one of the oldest member of the Queen’s household.
Lady Anne Russell was one the youngest ladies to serve the Queen, she was merely ten years old when she was appointed Maid of Honor.
Elizabeth didn’t only show favor to the women who had served her in the past but also some of the women who had served her stepmother, Kateryn Parr. Mrs. Eglionby was appointed mother of the maids and Elizabeth Carew was also given a noteworthy position as well.
No Women Allowed
Interestingly enough, if you were a woman and were not a member of the Queen’s household you were not welcome at court. Male courtiers were discouraged from bringing their wives to court because this would ruin the image that Elizabeth wanted as the most attractive and desired woman at court. This would explain why Amy Robsart was not at court with her husband Robert Dudley – it wasn’t only that the Queen was jealous of her relationship with her favorite, she felt that way about all the ladies except for the ones who were her servants.
Elizabeth even decreased the number of women who normally served the queen from twenty to only eleven. There were now only six maids of honor – the lowest number of female attendants in nearly forty years.
Various Positions in the Queen’s Household
I’ve had a few of you ask me on Facebook about the different positions that women held in the Queen’s household and what they were responsible for – here is an idea:
The ladies of the privy chamber attended the queen’s daily needs such as washing, dressing and serving at the table.
The queen’s chamberers would perform more menial tasks such as arranging bedding and cleaning the queen’s private chambers.
If you were a maid of honor to the Queen this meant that you were unmarried and attended the Queen in public and would carry her long train. A maid of honor was also responsible for entertaining her by singing, dancing and reading to her. These girls were supervised by the Mother of Maids.
The ladies in waiting to the queen were women who were sometimes connected to the privy chamber and held their position due to their experience or their husband’s position at court.
When these women joined the queen’s office they had to swear the ceremonial oath. This oath was used to form a bond of allegiance between the ladies and their queen.
Queen Elizabeth was very concerned about matters of personal cleanliness by the standards of the day. She was known to take regular baths in a tub that was specially made for her. This tub would travel with her from palace to palace – Elizabeth clearly liked to be clean. If for some reason her tub was unavailable, or time did not allow for it, her ladies would clean her with wet cloths that were soaked in pewter bowls. As far as dental hygiene I covered this in an article once and author Tracy Borman states that Elizabeth would clean her teeth with a concoction of “white wine and vinegar boiled up with honey which would be rubbed on with fine cloths.”
The duty of preparing the Queen each day would take hours – from bathing to dressing and hair, all had to be just right.
Elizabeth, like her father Henry VIII, did not handle illness well. In her lifetime, it had been noted that stress caused Elizabeth to suffer from headaches, breathlessness, stomach aches and insomnia. She was also known to rail against her ladies and doctors insisting she was fine because she perceived illness as weakness. This must have been hell for Elizabeth when she contracted smallpox in 1562.
It was at Hampton Court Palace on the 10th of October 1562 that Elizabeth began to feel unwell. After immersing herself in a bath and taking a walk outdoors (which resulted in a chill) Elizabeth took to her bed with a fever. A German physician by the name of Dr. Burcot was summoned to examine the queen. His diagnosis was smallpox even though she had no tell-tale spots on her skin. Elizabeth called him a fool and dismissed him.
Smallpox and Sickness
By the 16th of October the Queen was gravely ill. She was incapable of speech and would appear to pass out for stretches up to twenty-four hours. The royal doctors feared she would die and sent for Cecil.
The Queen’s cousin, Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon persuaded the humiliated Dr. Burcot to return (some reported by dagger) to the Queen’s side. The doctor ordered that Elizabeth be wrapped in red flannel, laid on a pallet bed by the fire and be given a potion that he had created. Merely two hours later Elizabeth was alert and speaking. Clearly Dr. Burcot was no fool.
By her side through it all (until she became ill herself) was Robert Dudley’s sister, Mary Sidney. Sidney’s case was much worse than the Queen’s and she was badly disfigured by her illness. Her husband, Sir Henry Sidney said:
“When I went to Newhaven I left her a full fair lady in mine eye at least the fairest, and when I returned I found her as foul a lady as the smallpox could make her, which she did take by continual attendance of her majesty’s most precious person (sick of the same disease) the scars of which (to her resolute discomfort) ever since hath done and doth remain in her face, so as she liveth solitary like a night-raven in the house more to my charge then if we had boarded together as we did before that evil accident happened.”
Mary Sidney is listed a one of Queen Elizabeth’s Gentlewomen of the Privy Chamber and makes one wonder if she was the one who attended to the Queen because of her closeness to Robert. Surely, in the big picture, this did not benefit Mary at all. She and her husband served the Queen for many, many years and felt this deserved more rewards than they received.
The Queen’s Activities
When Elizabeth’s health was good her favorite past time was dancing. She loved to show off her skills by performing such beautiful and complicated dances such as the galliard and volta. Elizabeth would spend long hours with her ladies rehearsing the steps until they were performed to perfection.
In the evenings, when Elizabeth retired to her private apartments, her ladies would attend to her every need. They would carefully unpin her hair, undress her and remove her makeup. The Queen undone was something only her ladies were allowed to see. This is why it was such a big deal years later when the Earl of Sussex (Lettice Knollys son) burst into the Queen’s bedchamber to witness her in this state.
Compensation and Treatment of her Ladies
To serve the Queen was not a lucrative career – it was mostly for the prestige and favor by the Queen. Their pay was considered moderate. Maids of honor and ladies of the presence-chamber were seldom paid at all, while ladies of the privy chamber and bedchamber receive an annual salary of roughly 33 pounds or the equivalent of around 7,000 pounds today.
Not only did they lack pay, or receive very little pay, but their meals usually consisted of leftovers from the Queen’s meals.
While most of the women in her household were unpaid or little paid they were regularly receive clothing, jewelry and other gifts from their mistress.
Their living quarters were also very cramped and uncomfortable. While sanitation was poor there were no bathrooms or flushing toilets available to them like there was to the Queen. The court, as a result, would have had a foul smell. When this would happen the Queen and her entourage would regularly move or travel to allow for a thorough cleaning of the palace to have the human waste disposed of before they returned.
Elizabeth was also noted as treating her ladies very similarly to how her mother had – if any of her ladies failed to perform any of their duties properly the Queen would fly into a rage and punish them with slaps or blows. Author Tracy Borman says in Elizabeth’s Women, “When one poor lady was clumsy in serving her at table, Elizabeth stabbed her in the hand” and that one foreign visitor to court observed: “She is a haughty woman, falling easily into rebuke…She thinks highly of herself and has little regard for her servants and Council, being of opinion that she is far wiser than they; she mocks them and often cries out upon them.”
Elizabeth had the temper of her father and all the charm and charisma of her mother.
Going Against the Queen
The downside of being a close servant to the Queen was that she controlled your fate. I’ve discussed this several times – that I find it completely selfish and unnecessary for Elizabeth to hate when her ladies married. One of the ladies who served Elizabeth learned the hard way to not cross the Queen – Elizabeth Throckmorton.
In 1584, at the age of 19, Elizabeth “Bess” Throckmorton went to court and became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth. Eventually she became Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber. She was responsible for dressing the Queen. A very intimate job, indeed.
Bess and her younger brother, Arthur were both courtiers during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. “Bess” had been described by her contemporaries as “intelligent, forthright, passionate, and courageous”.
After six years at court (roughly 25 years old) the still single “Bess” met Walter Raleigh who was quickly becoming one of the Queen Elizabeth’s favorites. As a lady to the Queen it was necessary for “Bess” to get permission to be courted. The Queen must also give her approval of any man who wished to court one of her ladies because they were supposed to be seen as extremely virtuous women. Throckmorton and Raleigh clearly believed they would not get permission and began a secret and intimate relationship.
By July 1591, Bess Throckmorton was pregnant – she secretly wed Raleigh and understood the seriousness of getting married without permission from Elizabeth. If she did not marry then her child would be considered a bastard. So really, at that point, she didn’t have a choice.
“Bess” must have been aware of the danger in having the Queen discover she was pregnant AND married that she somehow obtained permission to leave court to stay at her brother Arthur’s home in London. It is there that she gave birth to a son in March 1592.
Not long after she returned to court only to have the Queen discover all that had happened behind her back. Both Throckmorton and Raleigh were thrown in the Tower of London. In October, at only six months old, the couple’s son died of the plague and Queen Elizabeth chose to release the couple from the Tower. She never forgave “Bess” Throckmorton for her betrayal and Raleigh was ordered not to be seen at court for one year.
The fate of “Bess” Throckmorton mirrors that of Lettice Knollys after her secret marriage to Robert Dudley. Both women fell in love with the Queen’s favorite, married secretly and fell from favor. However, both women appear to have found love despite the loss of favor from their Queen. This is something that the Queen would never have.
Anne Vavasour was Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth and the mistress of the Earl of Oxford, by whom she had an illegitimate son – Edward. Both Anne and the Earl of Oxford, for their offences, were sent to the Tower by the Queen’s orders. Later she became the mistress of Sir Henry Lee of Ditchley, by whom she had another illegitimate son – Thomas. This affair happened shortly after she had married her first husband, John Finch, a sea-captain. The Queen apparently was not as displeased with this affair as Anne and Lee entertained the Queen together at Ditchley.
Interestingly enough, Anne was charged with bigamy when she married John Richardson after she had already married (in c.1590) John Finch, who was still living. Her fine was Ł2,000 and she was spared from performing a public penance.
Frances Walsingham was Lady in Waiting to Queen Elizabeth and the wife of Sir Philip Sydney. She was the daughter of Francis Walsingham, who was a trusted adviser of Queen Elizabeth. He is best known as Elizabeth’s “spymaster.”
In 1590, Frances married her second husband, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. The match caused great displeasure to the Queen Elizabeth, partly because Essex was the son of Lettice Knollys and partly because Elizabeth herself had a crush on Robert Devereux herself.
Then we look at Catherine Carey, cousin (or possibly sister) to the Queen. Catherine and her husband Francis Knollys were both loyal servants to the Queen. Francis was always at the will of the Queen, even when his wife was on her deathbed and he begged to be by her side – the Queen would not allow him to come home. Even Catherine requested her husband to be by her said, to no avail.
My Opinion of the Queen
Throughout my years of researching the Tudors I’ve always said that Elizabeth is my least favorite Tudor monarch and this article, in my opinion is the perfect example of why. I understand those of you who love her because she was a strong female ruler, or because she brought peace and prosperity to England. My response to that is: Sure, yes, she was all those things, but that does not mean she was a nice person. In my opinion, she was just like her father. She was selfish, moody and unjust.
The next article on Elizabeth will be my last in this series and I haven’t quite figured out where I’m going to go with that one yet. Stay Tuned!
Borman, Tracy. Elizabeth’s Woman (Bantam Books, 2009)
MacCaffrey, Wallace T. The Shaping of the Elizabethan Regime – Elizabethan Politics, 1558-1572 (Princeton University Press, 1968)
Weir, Alison. The Life of Elizabeth I (Ballantine Books, 1998)
In the last article of this series we ended with the death of Thomas Seymour in 1549, but before we move forward I’d like to step back a bit to get a bigger picture of what was to come in Elizabeth’s future.
When King Henry VIII died on the 28th of January 1547, Elizabeth and her brother Edward were both at Ashridge when they received the news. The children clung to one another and wept a great deal. Edward Tudor, the son of Henry VIII and the late Jane Seymour was now the King of England – he was only nine years old. From that point on the lives of the Tudor siblings would never be the same.
After all three heirs to throne received the news of their father’s death they were taken back to court. Mary and Elizabeth would not remain there long since the new king (Edward) was unmarried. It was considered improper to have unmarried ladies at court without a female household to serve. At least not until Edward was married and had his queen had a household. Then it would be okay. Imagine how boring things were without women at court. So instead of Mary and Elizabeth staying at court they joined the household of the dowager queen – a temporary arrangement as both girls were expected to eventually move to their own estates.
The death of King Henry only increased the tension between Mary and Elizabeth, and it only heightened after the two were separated. With that being said, at the beginning of the Seymour/Parr marriage the sisters had both agreed that it was too soon for the dowager queen to remarry.
Elizabeth appears to have “gotten over” the ordeal when she accepted Parr’s offer to live with her at Chelsea. Mary’s reaction to Elizabeth accepting Parr’s offer was with horor. She could only assume that her sister felt she had nowhere else to go. In turn, Mary offered Elizabeth a place in her own household, so the sisters could stand united against their stepmother. Elizabeth was too attached to her stepmother to leave her side to be with Mary. Parr was really the first mom that she had ever known and wished to stay. Mary, not happy with her much younger sister’s choice, left in disgust. This was what some would call Elizabeth’s first obvious defiance of her sister.
It was while Elizabeth was at Chelsea that she met another man who would make a great impact in her life, William Cecil. Elizabeth hit it off immediately with Cecil who had come to Chelsea to pay his respects. As with many Cecil understood how important it was to be near those with a claim to the throne. After speaking with Elizabeth, Cecil agreed to take on the management of her estates and revenues. This task was one that Cecil was so good at that Elizabeth entrusted him with other matters. Cecil became the man who Elizabeth went to for advice and guidance on many matters, but especially matters of state.
In the meantime, the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth began to cool. The distance between the sisters appears to have put a strain on their relationship. Mary had been great at writing and replying to her sister’s letters while Elizabeth appears to have been too caught up with the activities at Chelsea to make the time correspond with her sister. This does not mean that Elizabeth did not care for her sister – when she heard that Mary had been unwell Elizabeth was genuinely concerned for her sister’s welfare. She wrote Mary to express her concern for her health, but that’s where it stopped. When one of Mary’s ladies requested that Elizabeth send one of HER ladies, Jane Russell to be specific, to help care for her ailing sister. Elizabeth stated that she could not send Jane Russell because her husband would not allow it. This was probably taken as a slight by Mary.
After the debacle with Thomas Seymour at Hanworth in early 1548, the dowager queen felt it best to send Elizabeth away to protect her reputation from rumors spreading about the tryst with Seymour. Elizabeth was devastated that she had disappointed her stepmother but understood it was for the best. A little distance from the situation would give Elizabeth the privacy she needed for the rumors to die down. It was while at Cheshunt that Elizabeth realized what a dangerous game she was playing with Seymour and was grateful to her stepmother for removing her from the situation.
While they appear to have made up, Parr and Elizabeth would never see one another again. Kateryn Parr died a few days after giving birth to a daughter by Seymour. They named her Mary, after Mary Tudor. The relationship between Kateryn and Mary had improved after Kateryn announced she was pregnant, and maybe this was Kateryn’s way of extending an olive branch to her stepdaughter.
In 1550, after the death of both her stepmother and Thomas Seymour, Elizabeth wrapped up her formal education. She was now believed to be fluent in French, Flemish, Italian and Spanish – as well as Welsh, Cornish, Scottish and Irish by the end of her life. Elizabeth was one of the best and most educated women in the realm – rightfully so, she was heir to the throne.
Anne of Cleves had seen her status diminished after the death of King Henry but that did not stop Elizabeth from visiting her former stepmother. Anne had established her household at Hever, which must have been comforting for Elizabeth to be there, near memories of her mother. It was there that Anne would catch up with Elizabeth to find out what was going on at court in the realm.
Elizabeth had now settled into her household at Hatfield and it must have been reassuring to know that she had something of her own. Her brother Edward, the King, favored Elizabeth over their Catholic sister Mary. It was during her brother’s reign that Elizabeth saw what happened when your religious beliefs did not match the monarch’s. This was something that would affect Elizabeth’s life as well. But, during the reign of her brother, she was safe.
During the remainder of King Edward’s reign the sister’s saw very little of one another. Letters were exchanged but that was really the extent of it.
In 1553, Edward VI became gravely ill and was not expected to survive. The symptoms described are consistent with tuberculosis. Young King Edward, along with his council, were gravely concerned that Mary would undo all the reforms put into place and return England to Catholicism. This was something they were adamantly against – in turn, the king devised a new Act of Succession. One that stated his cousin, the Protestant Lady Jane Grey would inherit the throne after his death.
Upon Edward’s death in July 1553 Mary sent letters to the council claiming her right to the throne. What Edward had done had essentially been illegal. The devise for succession had not been approved by Parliament and could not stop Mary from claiming her rightful place. Where was Elizabeth during all of this? She was at Hatfield lying low. Ever the politician, she knew not to show favor one way or another. Less than two weeks later Lady Jane Grey was in the Tower and Mary was officially pronounced Queen of England. This is the moment when Elizabeth’s life would never be the same.
At the end of July 1553, prior to Mary’s triumphant ride into London, Elizabeth met with her sister, the Queen, at Wanstead. The sisters behaved as if there had never been a rift between them; Mary even gave Elizabeth a beautiful necklace made of white coral beads that were trimmed with gold and also a ruby and diamond brooch.
Elizabeth was now in a position that may have made her feel uncomfortable. After having quarreled and disagreed with her sister for years Mary now kept Elizabeth close. Afterall, Elizabeth was next in line to the throne – together they would show a unified front….at least by outward appearances.
The happiness did not last long between the sisters. Mary knew that her sister was a Protestant just as their cousin (and fallen queen) Jane Grey was. Mary was a Catholic and would not tolerate her sister’s religious beliefs. The problem? Well, Elizabeth was raised as a Protestant…it was all she knew. Like asking all of England to switch back to Catholicism, Mary was going to have a difficult time controlling her sister.
At the beginning of 1554, Thomas Wyatt the Younger raised an army of men to march toward London. These men were all against the Queen marrying Prince Philip and especially returning England to Catholicism. Wyatt’s Rebellion caused trouble in Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship as well – Mary and her advisors her believed that Elizabeth was responsible for the uprising.
Whether or not Elizabeth was involved in Wyatt’s Rebellion is unknown. Under interrogation in the Tower (after his capture and arrest), Wyatt insisted that Elizabeth had nothing to do with the uprising. Queen Mary and her advisors were not so certain.
Mary’s advisors, specifically Simon Renaud, and the Spanish, believed the best option was to marry Elizabeth to a Catholic outside of England and to get her out of the country.
Stephen Gardiner and his Catholic sympathizers thought it best to marry her off to Edward Courteney, Earl of Devon. Keeping her in England in the event of Mary’s death without issue was more important. Their fear was that the Spanish would end up ruling England in the event of Mary’s death.
Author Paul Johnson believed in his his book “Elizabeth I – A Study in Power & Intellect” that Elizabeth was certainly aware of Wyatt’s Rebellion and how it would affect her, however, I believe she would not have gotten herself involved with it – if successful it would set a standard. Just like later in life with the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. What would stop another from doing the same to her?
Any exchanges that Elizabeth had with Wyatt were verbal only. Her acquiescence was imperative to her survival.
During the investigation of Elizabeth’s involvement in the rebellion, Gardiner was unable to find any witnesses to testify they heard Elizabeth use words that could be construed as treason.
Did Elizabeth believe her sister was beyond her child bearing years? In 1554, the Queen was 38 years old – two years older than her former stepmother, Kat Parr when she died in 1548. Thirty-eight was easily considered middle age and highly unlikely to have children. It is possible that Elizabeth understood that it was only a matter of time before she ascended the throne. She would just need patience.
Regardless of Elizabeth’s guilt or innocence she became the prime suspect.
Mary summoned Elizabeth to court, at which Elizabeth feigned illness. She feared her rightfully paranoid sister would throw her in the Tower. Supposed sickness would only save Elizabeth for so long. Eventually, Mary sent Lord William Howard to Ashridge to escort Elizabeth to Whitehall, by any means possible. Howard also brought with him doctors to ensure that Elizabeth was well enough to travel the thirty-seven miles to the palace. The trip was done in stages and they arrived at their destination in about a week.
Upon her arrival some onlookers commented that Elizabeth look ill, while others thought she appeared defiant. Dressed in white Elizabeth wished to convey innocence to her suspicious sister and onlookers.
On the 25th of February, Sir John Bourne reported to Gardiner that after much questioning and torture that he was unsuccessful in getting Wyatt to confess that Elizabeth was involved in the rebellion.
At his trial on the 15th of March 1554, Thomas Wyatt stated that he HAD written to Elizabeth but that he had only received a verbal reply that was non-committal. Even on the scaffold, awaiting his execution, he insisted that he was the only one involved that was privy to the plot.
While all this was happening Elizabeth was safely held at Whitehall. You could probably say she was under house arrest, but on the day following Wyatt’s trial, Gardiner was able to force through the Council an order to have Elizabeth placed in the Tower. The only problem was the men could not agree on the charges that she be brought against her. Their biggest fear was that Elizabeth would one day be Queen and they would be held responsible for their actions.
On the 17th of March the Marquess of Winchester and Earl of Sussex were sent to escort Elizabeth from Whitehall to the Tower. When they informed Elizabeth of her fate she insisted on speaking with her sister, the Queen. Eventually it was agreed that she could write Mary. We will never know if this was planned or not but Elizabeth took so long to write the letter that the tide began to pull out. They would have to wait until the following day to transport her.
Elizabeth’s letter was delivered and it read:
March I6, I554.
If any ever did try this old saying, ‘that a king’s word was more than another man’s oath,’ I most humbly beseech your Majesty to verify it to me, and to remember your last promise and my last demand, that I be not not condemned without answer and due proof, which it seems that I now am; for without cause proved, I am by your council from you commanded to go to the Tower, a place more wanted for a false traitor than a true subject, which though I know I desire it not, yet in the face of all this realm it appears proved. I pray to God I may die the shamefullest death that any ever died, if I may mean any such thing; and to this present hour I protest before God (Who shall judge my truth, whatsoever malice shall devise), that I never practised, counselled, nor consented to anything that might be prejudicial to your person anyway, or dangerous to the state by any means. And therefore I humbly beseech your Majesty to let me answer afore yourself, and not suffer me to trust to your Councillors, yea, and that afore I go to the Tower, if it be possible; if not, before I be further condemned. Howbeit, I trust assuredly your Highness will give me leave to do it afore I go, that thus shamefully I may not be cried out on, as I now shall be; yea, and that without cause. Let conscience move your Highness to pardon this my boldness, which innocency procures me to do, together with hope of your natural kindness, which I trust will not see me cast away without desert, which what it is I would desire no more of God but that you truly knew, but which thing I think and believe you shall never by report know, unless by yourself you hear. I have heard of many in my time cast away for want of coming to the presence of their Prince; and in late days I heard my Lord of Somerset say that if his brother had been suffered to speak with him he had never suffered; but persuasions were made to him so great that he was brought in belief that he could not live safely if the Admiral lived, and that made him give consent to his death. Though these persons are not to be compared to your Majesty, yet I pray to God the like evil persuasions persuade not one sister against the other, and all for that they have heard false report, and the truth not known. Therefore, once again, kneeling with humbleness of heart, because I am not suffered to bow the knees of my body, I humbly crave to speak with your Highness, which I would not be so bold as to desire if I knew not myself most clear, as I know myself most true. And as for the traitor Wyatt, he might peradventure write me a letter, but on my faith I never received any from him. And as for the copy of the letter sent to the French King, I pray God confound me eternally if ever I sent him word, message, token, or letter, by any means, and to this truth I will stand in till my death.
Your Highness’s most faithful subject, that hath been from the beginning, and will be to my end,
I humbly crave but only one word of answer from yourself.
The Tower of London at the time of Elizabeth’s arrest was nearly full, but even with that being said she was placed in a more spacious room on the second floor of the Bell Tower. The room she was placed in was the same one that Bishop John Fisher was housed in prior to his execution and was also the one above Sir Thomas More’s. Her prison had four chambers and the attention of a dozen servants.
There is a lot of history in the Tower of London.
Elizabeth’s time in the Tower would have been a terrifying time for her. Her mother had spent time there and been executed as well as her stepmother Katherine Howard twelve years earlier. Only a month earlier her cousin Lady Jane Grey was executed there. Elizabeth surely would have believed that her time was coming. It wouldn’t be long before she too was executed, because let’s face it – that’s what happened to people placed in the Tower. Very few walked out alive.
By the end of April the Council had decided that there was not sufficient evidence to charge Elizabeth with treason, so in turn they chose instead to have her removed to the country.
On the 19th of May, Sir Henry Bedingfield was charged with transporting Elizabeth to Woodstock. Woodstock was a dilapidated royal hunting lodge in Oxfordshire. Bedingfield orders were to treat Elizabeth as ‘may be agreeable to her honour and estate as well as degree’. Elizabeth was not allowed any conversations with strange persons without Bedingfield being present. Plus she was not allowed to write or receive letters or tokens, from anyone.
At Woodstock Elizabeth was allowed to keep six of her own servants. Three men and three women. The women were with her constantly while the men could come and go. This made it easy for messages to be delivered.
Bedingfield was housing a woman who could easily outsmart his rules and there wasn’t much he could do about. Like earlier, Bedingfield also understood that Elizabeth would one day be Queen and so he knew to tread lightly.
She has gone down in history as the lucky fourth wife of Henry VIII…but as we’ve discovered in the first two parts of this series, Anne of Cleves was anything but lucky. Anne was patient, intelligent and kind. She was human, like you and me. Unlike her predecessors Anne was able to maneuver through a failed marriage to become the longest surviving of all of Henry’s wives.
At the end of Anne of Cleves, Part Two – it was the 9th of July 1540 and the marriage between King Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves was declared null and void and Anne would, going forward, be called, ‘the king’s sister’.
Historian Elizabeth Norton explains it well: ‘Despite her acquiescence, Anne always believed herself to be the legitimate wife of the king and the true queen. In spite of this she was first and foremost a survivor and, if the price of that survival was a denial of her true status in exchange for a life of opulent retirement, she was prepared to play along, even if that meant accepting a new lower status, beside her former maid, Queen Catherine Howard.‘
The End of Cromwell and Beginning of Queen Katheryn
The 28th of July was a very important date in Tudor history for two reasons, first of all, Thomas Cromwell was executed and secondly, Henry VIII married his fifth wife, Katheryn Howard privately at Oatlands Palace.
Even after all the name calling and anger toward the marriage to Anne Henry was still sensitive to his ex-wife’s feelings. A few days after his fifth wedding, Henry traveled from Hampton Court Palace to Richmond Palace to dine with Anne. Henry informed Anne of his marriage to Katheryn Howard over dinner. This is the part where I wonder where Henry’s head was. He was obsessed with Katheryn Howard – we all know that, so what would have caused him to leave his new wife to dine with the old wife he was so turned off by? Had he already realized that his young bride lacked the maturity of a good conversation? Or maybe it was just a respect he had for the woman who gave him exactly what he wanted.
Anne enjoyed her new-found independence and stayed at Richmond Palace through the end of the year. It became her favorite location, one that she later made her primary home.
When their marriage was dissolved Henry told Anne that she could visit court whenever she pleased, but this was not the case. For awhile, her visits were limited to give Katheryn Howard the time she deserved to flourish as queen — until she was invited to celebrate the New Year at court.
Anne arrived at Hampton Court Palace on the 3rd of January – Anne’s first meeting with the new queen was a nervous one but Katheryn seems to have been even more nervous about her meeting with her husband’s ex-wife. Prior to the meeting Katheryn asked those around her for advice on how to properly welcome her husband’s former wife. She wanted to make sure it was all done perfectly.
When Katheryn entered the room Anne fell to her knees and greeted the new queen with all the reverence she deserved. Katheryn was thrown off by Anne’s behavior and begged her to stand. Anne refused and continued to kneel in front of Katheryn, insisting on showing the new queen that she was respected by the ‘king’s sister’. While all of this was going on Henry entered the room to witness the interaction – he acknowledged and bowed to Anne and then the three of them had dinner together.
When dinner finished Henry, Katheryn and Anne spent a short amount of time together before the King retreated to his apartments. Anne and Katheryn spent the rest of the night talking and dancing…like two friends. They got along quite well.
When her time at court was over, Anne returned to Richmond Palace, satisfied with how it all went. The queen and Anne had got along well and the King was kind and gracious to Anne. Things were definitely looking up for the ‘king’s sister’.
In August 1540, the French ambassador, Marillac, wrote that Anne was, ‘far from pretending to be married, she is as joyous as ever, and wears new dresses every day’
Even the ambassador for Cleves was surprised at Anne’s behavior – curious why she was acting so merry. This was Anne’s coping mechanism after the humiliation of her failed marriage and stint as Queen of England.
By October of the same year there were rumors circulating that King Henry would discard Katheryn and take Anne back. While Anne would have welcomed the reunion with Henry she knew that Katheryn was his little rose without a thorn, and that the king was very happy with his young bride.
Apparently even Katheryn Howard caught wind of these rumors because Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial ambassador, wrote that the queen had been very sad and when the Henry asked her why she said that she feared she would be put aside for Anne of Cleves. The king quickly told her the rumors were rubbish and that if he were to marry again it would not be Anne of Cleves. Not very reassuring if you ask me.
Katheryn should have felt a little more confident in March of 1541 when Henry brought her to London in all the glory that Anne of Cleves had not been given. Both Henry and Katheryn traveled in the same barge down the Thames this time, unlike the 4th of February 1540 when the king and queen traveled in separate barges.
With all that being said, Henry VIII still kept Anne of Cleves in his thoughts – he acted as a protective older brother to her…or maybe a controlling ex-husband, you be the judge. This behavior was evident when Francis of Lorraine married Christina of Denmark in June 1541. Henry proclaimed that their marriage was not lawful because, as he had claimed, Anne was ‘the real legitimate wife’ of Lorraine.
The End of the King’s Fifth Wife
That fall is when the scandal broke about Katheryn Howard’s past in the household of the dowager duchess of Norfolk. Henry was heartbroken by the news and things only got worse for Katheryn on that front.
Around the same time rumors began to stir that Anne of Cleves had had a child by the king which was conceived during her visit on New Years. The time she met Katheryn for the first time. King Henry knew himself that he was not the father and so he demanded a full investigation into the matter.
Henry’s council sent for a couple of Anne’s attendants to get to the bottom of the matter, and after questioning Lady Wingfield and Lady Rattsay they were able to determine there was no truth in the matter.
Anne of Cleves was very upset about the whole affair but her attitude soon changed when she heard about the downfall of Katheryn Howard. While Anne had been very friendly with Katheryn upon their meeting, she was joyous to find out that the queen was in disgrace – to her, this meant that there was still hope for her to be reinstated as queen.
The Duke of Cleves even tried to convince the King that he should marry Anne again, but Henry would not hear any of it and besides, he was nursing a wounded heart over the Katheryn Howard affair and would never have considered re-marrying Anne.
Even after Katheryn Howard’s execution Anne thought she had a chance to be reinstated, but once again she was disappointed by the lack of interest on the king’s part.
A New Wife – Just Not Anne
After a year without a queen, Henry VIII married Kateryn Parr in July 1543. Anne of Cleve’s didn’t find out about the wedding until two weeks after when the king asked to dine with her again at Richmond Palace – just as he had after he married Katheryn Howard. This time, Anne was devastated. She couldn’t understand why Henry would marry another woman, especially one that was less attractive than she was. At least with Katheryn Howard she could believe that the King’s obsession with her maid is what ended their marriage – but with Parr she was left confused and hurt.
Anne was so hurt by the king’s sixth marriage that she wanted to leave England, but she would soon find out that she would not be able to return home because of conflict between her brother and the Emperor.
After much conflict, loss of land and the death of her mother, Anne understood that the Cleves she knew no longer existed.
In 1546, Anne was able to put her dislike for Kateryn Parr behind her and became a regular visitor at court. During Anne’s frequent visits to court the King was so kind to her that rumors began to spread once again about the two having an affair and this time it was said that she had two children by the king. These rumors once again had no base.
Death of the King of England
In the final months of the king’s life Anne of Cleves truly felt like she was part of the royal family – spending much time with Henry, the queen and the king’s children.
When Henry VIII died in January 1547, Anne was saddened by the loss of a man she truly respected. She had never loved him but had become very fond of him. Upon the king’s death she was no longer the king’s sister…now she was just the king’s aunt. Anne’s life was about to change.
Anne soon realized that her new role at Tudor court was one of expensive irrelevance, or at least that is how the new king’s council saw her. They of course couldn’t see why Henry VIII’s promises to his ex-wife had to be upheld by the reign of his son.
From the time of her divorce from Henry VIII in 1540 up until his death in 1547, Anne’s divorce settlement was most generous – not to mention when Anne needed financial assistance the King would step up and help. Unfortunately, after Henry’s death, the state of England began to change when inflation set in and Anne’s settlement wasn’t nearly enough to cover all her expenses. Where the old king once had helped his ex-wife, the new king’s council wasn’t so generous.
The payments that had been promised to Anne by King Henry VIII soon fell into arrears and by 1550 things were growing so desperate for Anne that she petitioned King Edward. At first her payments were delayed due to the king being on progress but once he returned she received some, but not all of what was owed to her.
Once again in 1552 she complained and had lands and manors granted to her – the rent from these were not nearly enough to sustain Anne’s household payments and were merely meant to supplement her income.
During the remainder of King Edward’s reign Anne’s property was continually under attack to be taken from her and her income dwindled mightily. Anne continued to wish during this time that she could return home to Cleves but could also retain her income. Both of which could not be granted.
Reign of Queen Mary
After the death of King Edward VI, Anne would have been witnessed to the tragic events that followed regarding Lady Jane Grey. Anne had always been friends with the Lady Mary and supported her cause when Jane Grey was thrust on the throne of England by her father-in-law.
During Queen Mary’s coronation procession Anne was front and center in the first chariot following the Queen. She was, after all, a very prestigious member of Tudor court and shared the chariot with the Lady Elizabeth, the heir to the throne.
At the coronation banquet, Anne also sat at the same table as the Queen and Lady Elizabeth – this event would be Anne’s final public appearance.
When Queen Mary began to consider prospects for a husband, Anne voiced her opinion in the matter. At the time there were several men being considered: Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon, Don Luis of Portugal, Prince Philip of Spain, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, the King of Denmark, the Prince of Piedmont and even Reginald Pole. Anne favored Ferdinand of Austria because a marriage with him would ensure good relations with Cleves since there was a relation to her family through marriage.
By November 1553, Mary had decided who she would marry – I’m confident that she always knew it would be Philip of Spain. Her connection to her mother’s Spanish roots were strong and this would bring her the glory her mother would be proud of.
Anne, like many others, was disappointed with Mary’s selection. Her council and her subjects (well most anyway) were equally displeased.
During Wyatt’s Rebellion, Mary believed both Anne of Cleves and the Lady Elizabeth were involved. It appears that Mary had the paranoia of both her father and grandfather as there is no evidence that either woman was involved. But, to be honest, after the ascension of Lady Jane Grey why wouldn’t she have been suspicious.
Anne did not attend the wedding of Mary to Philip of Spain, for whatever reason, but she did write her a letter of congratulations – she ended it by saying, ‘Wishing you both much joy and felicity, with increase of children to God’s glory, and to the preservation of your prosperous estates, long to continue with honour in all godly virtue.‘
There is no evidence that Anne returned to Mary’s court – her rise to favor under the reign of Mary ended nearly as soon as it began. She spent her remaining years in quiet obscurity.
Life was never easy for Anne after the death of Henry VIII. The money she had been promised was not delivered as it should have been and she struggled to run her households and pay her servants. She was never looked after again like when she was the king’s sister.
Death of Anne of Cleves
By the end of April 1557, Anne was very sick – she had been sick for quite some time. That spring she moved to Chelsea Manor where her health increasingly declined. On the 12th of July, Anne realized she was dying. Three days later, while holding the hand of one of her ladies, Anne of Cleves died. She was forty-one years old and the last wife of Henry VIII to join him in the afterlife.
In my journey to discover the real Anne of Cleves I learned more about her than I have ever know. She wasn’t just the lucky wife – she was so much more.
Check out the Podcast on this article here:
Norton, Elizabeth; Anne of Cleves – Henry VIII’s Discarded Bride (2010)
Loades, David; The 6 Wives of Henry VIII (2014)
Fraser, Antonia; The Wives of Henry VIII (1992)
Weir, Alison; The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991)
Licence, Amy; ‘The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII’ (2014)